Lizbeth and her brother, Joey spend their summer in rural Maryland. Their family and friends are impoverished since it is the Great Depression.
After spending a day bothering locally-disliked Miss Lottie, Lizbeth hears her father crying as her mother comforts him. This makes her scared and confused as it ruins the family dynamic she's accustomed to.
In her fear and confusion, Lizbeth goes to Miss Lottie's shack at night and destroys her marigolds. Miss Lottie comes out and sees her, and Lizbeth sees her as a person for the first time. She later sees this as the time her childhood ended.